I was recently privileged to be invited to teach a couple of classes at the Cascadia North Accolade Tournament (CNAT) at Camp Jubilee. This is an annual tournament and workshop for Western Martial Arts. I taught two classes, the first was a combat knife class, the second was highland broadsword. I had originally written a post about the broadsword, but after re-reading it I decided that it needs work. So we’ll start with the knife. I take my knife classes very seriously. Which is not to say I don’t also take sword training seriously as well, but I don’t lie awake at night worrying that if I poorly explain a longsword technique one of my students will get in over their head at the bar.
Simon’s Rules of Knife Fighting #1- Never, Ever Get in a Knife Fight
Knife fights are extremely dangerous. Even if you win, you will almost certainly be cut, possibly quite seriously. When I teach a knife class, even when based on medieval and renaissance techniques, I always have an eye towards self defence. So if I can pass on just one thing when it comes to knife fighting, it’s that they should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately some instructors seem to skip this lesson. In the western martial arts world, our primary source of information comes from manuals written hundreds of years ago. Because of advances in technology and fashion, some things have to be done differently when dealing with modernizing the “dagger plays” from old texts. I have seen some instructors trying to teach period techniques as modern self defence. I am fortunate to have had training in modern military knife fighting from some very competent and experienced instructors, but were that not the case I would never consider teaching without the disclaimer of, “don’t use this on the street, you will die.”
Simon’s Rules of Knife Fighting #2- Don’t Get Cut
You want to see something scary? Do an image search for knife wounds. If confronted with a knife, run away if you can. Hand over your wallet if it’s a mugging. I sometimes carry a dummy wallet that I can hand over and only lose a few expired cards and five bucks or so. If you can’t escape, pay close attention to your opponent’s knife. Don’t try for a disarm unless you know exactly what you are doing, and even then I don’t necessarily recommend it. Evasion is key and strike your opponent somewhere painful if the opportunity arises. Escape as quickly as possible.
Simon’s Rules of Knife Fighting #3- Don’t Let Your Enemy Know You Have a Knife
A weapon is not a deterrent. To quote Sam Vimes of Terry Pratchet’s Discworld Series, “Never, ever threaten anyone with your sword unless you really mean it, because if he calls your bluff you suddenly don’t have many choices and they’re all the wrong ones.” There is a school of thought that encourages showing your weapon in order to cause your opponent to back down. I don’t feel this is a great option as it could just as easily escalate the situation. If you are ever confronted with a knife and happen to have your own, do not draw it unless you immediately intend to use it. With a knife we can take this lesson one step further. There is no reason your attacker even has to SEE your weapon until AFTER you have used it. During my knife class at CNAT I had one of the training knives tucked concealed in my belt, under my shirt. I made a point of not using it throughout the entire knife vs. unarmed portion of the class. At a certain point I asked one of the students to assist me in demonstrating a defence. As he approached I secretly palmed my knife and did this:
Blocked his downward strike and countered with a low strike of my own. I am pleased to say that I saw genuine looks of surprise on the faces of each of my students. This is as it should be. If I have a knife and feel that lethal force is the last option available, the first strike should be a total shock to my opponent. If there is any doubt in my mind that lethal force is my only choice or that I may hesitate in execution, then the knife stays away and I rely on my other skills to keep me alive. I usually carry a knife, but don’t consider it a weapon. I trust in my mind and my abilities to help me avoid and evade danger to the level that would require me to use a deadly weapon. Remember Rule #1. If you take nothing else away from this, remember to never, ever get in a knife fight. It’s the only way to win one.